Years ago, when I was the archaeologist for Admiralty Island National Monument, I was surprised that several marmot bones were reported from Daxatkanada, an archaeological site first excavated by Frederica de Laguna in 1949-50 and later re-investigated as part of my dissertation. Having worked on Admiralty Island with knowledgeable biologists, I had learned that marmots do not occur naturally on any island other than Douglas Island (near Juneau) in the Alexander Archipelago (see also McDonald & Cook 2009:67-70 Recent Mammals of Alaska). Back then, I suspected that the original identification was in error, but during 2014, I had the privilege of examining the faunal remains recovered by de Laguna that now reside in the Hearst Museum of UC Berkeley. What you see in the photo is the archaeological specimen (a femur) in the center, compared to my juvenile yellow-bellied marmot (Marmota flaviventris) above and a land otter (Lontra canadensis) below. Unfortunately, I don’t have a an adult M. caligata to compare. This femur and other specimens from the site really do appear to be marmot. So we must infer that somebody at Daxatkanada was in the possession of the bones of a marmot or two. The question is why? Heaton and Grady (2003) found M. caligata in Pleistocene fossil assemblages (dated to 26-27,000 years ago) from Prince of Wales Island. Could marmots have been more widespread throughout the Alexander Archipelago during pre-contact times than during the 20th century? Did Tlingit ancestors curate and transport marmot bones from the mainland to Admiralty Island? Were whole marmots traded to the islands? If the skins were valued, I wonder why the bones show up… marmots do not seem like they would be highly desired food animals, but then, I have never tasted marmot.
Last spring, while working in the UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History, the sharp-eyed Anna Sloan found some small fish bones in a feature sample Don Dumond excavated from the Leader Creek site, 49-NAK-008, in 1973. In the pursuit of herring bones for our ancient DNA study, I examined the bones. They weren’t herring but appear to be smelt, but not the eulachon or surf smelt we have in our comparative collection. This was confirmed after taking the specimens to Portland State, and examining Virginia Butler’s excellent collection. Rory Walsh took this great photo, and based on their provenience, I am *guessing* that these may be rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax, which are common in this region. But rainbow smelt, to my knowledge, have never been identified in an Alaskan archaeological site. At least some of the vertebrae (like the one in the upper right) look as if it passed through a digestive system, so perhaps these are stomach contents? I would love to be able to confirm the identification: does anyone have a rainbow smelt specimen available for loan? Or better yet, if you live on the Alaska Peninsula and fish for smelt, I would love to acquire a frozen fish to process. I will pay for shipping! Has anyone ever identified rainbow smelt archaeologically?
Last week I delivered a public lecture at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, The Archaeology of Herring: Fisheries and Sustainability across Millennia. Mostly I talked about Pacific herring in Alaska and B.C. I had a great audience, many of them fellow fish-lovers, and some good questions were asked, including ones I couldn’t answer. One person asked about the Columbia River shad, about which I knew only as an important East Coast fish that was introduced into the Pacific Northwest. I commented that my father would probably be ashamed of my knowing so little about this fish. Stimulated by the the questioner’s prompting (and not wanting to further embarrass my father who taught me to fish), I’ve learned that the American shad (Alosa sapidissima) is the largest member of the clupeid (herring) family. Although it gets bigger on the east coast, it can grow to 24 inches and 8 lbs. in the Columbia. This species was introduced into the Sacramento River in 1871, and some stragglers found their way to the Columbia even before it was introduced there in 1885. Shad have been incredibly successful adapting to the Columbia, especially after the “Celilo Invasion” in 1957 when they were able to get past the falls with the construction of the Dalles Dam. So while this and other dams have harmed salmon, new niches have been created for shad. As Hinrichsen and Ebbesmeyer (1998:) wrote, “as long as we have dams on the Columbia… it may be best to value and manage the shad.” Their article in Shad Journal is very instructive <http://www.cbr.washington.edu/shadfoundation/shad/JOURNAL3/vol3n2.pdf>. We should all be eating more shad, and their roe sounds especially delicious.
What a privilege to go out on the boat with Sitka Tribe resource managers Jeff Feldpausch and Jessica Gill to watch them pull a set of hemlock branches covered in herring roe. Not being an Alaska resident, I couldn’t help with the harvest, but I was able to help with the processing along with other STA employees and also some ADF&G subsistence personnel. We processed about 900 lbs. of roe with about 7 people working 4 hours. It was impressive. And herring eggs right off the rock are so delicious! What a special food…I’ve had herring eggs before but nothing else compares.
- Processing herring eggs with Sitka Tribe of Alaska
McKechnie & Moss looking at Cl pa 9 (Clupea pallasi #9) in comparative collection
We are excited to announce that our Northwest Coast-wide study of herring has just appeared in PNAS:
McKechnie, I., D. Lepofsky, M.L. Moss, V.L. Butler, T.J. Orchard, G. Coupland, F. Foster, M. Caldwell, and K. Lertzman (2014) Archaeological Data Provide Alternative Hypotheses on Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) Distribution, Abundance, and Variability. PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) doi: 10.1073/pnas.1316072111. Online February 18, 2014.
You can find the paper at <http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/02/13/1316072111>
See also: <http://uonews.uoregon.edu/archive/news-release/2014/2/oregon-researchers-say-ancient-herring-catch-nets-fisheries-weakness>
Here is one of five ducks I recently salvaged from Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge, thanks to the excellent staff there. There was a duck die-off in early September and many ducks succumbed to a botulism outbreak due to over-crowding around the shrinking waters of Tulelake. This duck will be processed in Frances White’s lab by one of her excellent students, under the supervision of Andrea Eller and Samantha Buckley. We will use its bones to help identify the genus Aythya in archaeological assemblages.
adult male ring-necked duck
Lunate Crescent for Southern California
Our article,Waterfowl and Lunate Crescents in Western North America: The Archaeology of the Pacific Flyway is now available for download on the Journal of World Prehistory website, <http://link.springer.com/journal/10963>. The project grew out of my residency at Playa in central Oregon less than one year ago. It was a real challenge to finish this paper because my co-author, Jon Erlandson, and I are now divorced after 31 years together. Long story… but the story of birds in western North America at the end of the Pleistocene is far more interesting.
Gadid (cod) vertebrae from Nash Harbor, previously identified as herring (Souders 1997). Photo by Rory Walsh
Tiny vertebrae from Nash Harbor bulk sample as they appear to the naked eye. Photo by M. Moss
These Nash Harbor vertebrae have been sitting in a box at the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum in Bethel for 15 years or so. I am deeply indebted to Steve Street for re-locating them and sending them to me. I am also grateful to NIMA (Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska) Corporation, who have been the owners of the Nash Harbor archaeological sites since 2007. 142 vertebrae were identified as herring from this sample. When I first examined them on Feb. 8, 2013, they didn’t look like herring, but appeared to be small cod (gadid). But there was so much sediment on the vertebrae, they were hard to see. I received permission to gently wash the vertebrae which I did. Then, I examined each and every one under magnification. They are NOT herring, not even a single one of them! They are a small gadid, perhaps tom cod. I think I have identified what may be a chronic problem in the north… when small fish vertebrae are found they may often be assumed to be herring without adequate examination. Years ago, when I first started working with fish bones, I never used a microscope… but today, we know we have to use magnification to identify small taxa. So this is a cautionary tale: if herring are reported as present, and no other small fish taxon has been identified, then you might want to re-visit the identification.
On Feb. 12, 2013, Richard Stern and I had an interesting exchange about herring. This got posted to my other topic (Deep History of Pacific Flyway), so I am re-posting it to Archaeology of Herring where it belongs. Thank you Richard!
From MM (2/12/13)
You have raised excellent questions, Richard. Thanks for your thoughts and great advice. I very much doubt much screening was done, because so much attention has been focused on defining houses and other structures in the arctic. As it turns out, the Nash Harbor herring bones are not herring after all!!! I examined them last Friday and found they are a small gadid (tomcod, small walleye pollock perhaps). I am going to photograph them with a microscope and post the photo. Establishing the northernmost range of herring is going to be an interesting outcome (hopefully!).
From Richard Stern, firstname.lastname@example.org (2/12/13)
Hello Madonna, Congratulations on getting funding for this.
Reading some of the herring posts and the other herring work
you (and others) have done makes me wonder about herring in Norton Sound and beyond. Thinking about the distribution of these northernmost herring fisheries, I wonder about Museum and other collections from Denbigh, Difchahak, and other coastal sites. Without going back to some of the original reports, I’m not sure whether or not the deposits were screened for smallish fish bones. There might be bulk samples still in the accessioned collections. Would be interesting to chat about this next month in Anchorage, and of course we can correspond via email too. The ADF&G area fisheries biologists might have some ideas too, but you’ve probably been in contact with them. Cheers, Richard
Nash Harbor (49-NI-003) is a site excavated by Dennis Griffin, now the Oregon SHPO Archaeologist, but formerly a UO graduate student. The fish remains were studied by Paul Souders, another former student of mine. Paul has been living in China for more than several years, and although he no longer does archaeology, both Paul and Dennis are in my mind as I sort through Nash Harbor specimens looking for herring bones.
Pacific cod bones from Nash Harbor (brown) shown in relation to UO comparative Gadus macrocephalus specimen (white). one of my favorite fish. Photo by M. Moss.
Dennis and Paul did the work that will allow me (eventually) to obtain herring bones to submit for aDNA testing. I am also grateful to a new colleague, Steven Street, Archaeologist with the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel. Steven is the one who has been locating the appropriate specimen numbers and sending them to me. So thank you to Dennis, Paul, and Steve. I still marvel at the tremendous size of the most important fish taxon found at Nash Harbor: Pacific cod. Just look at how big these Nash Harbor cod are compared to our comparative collection specimen! (which was 67 cm long [standard length]). This reminds me to also thank Diane Hanson, University of Alaska, who sent me the cod, and Torrey Rick who processed it.